NEW YORK, United States — With nearly a million followers on Instagram, attitude for days, a high-profile career modelling for Calvin Klein and a signature look — gapped teeth, a buzz cut, tattoos — Slick Woods is one of the most recognisable characters in fashion today. She famously walked the Savage x Fenty show last year while pregnant and went into labour backstage. In many ways, she’s the face of the inclusivity movement that has become the trend du jour.
“I’ve never been styled a day in my fucking life,” she said. “I’m about being yourself and being genuine.”
The natural next step for her, gauging from what her social media-friendly peers and other influencers have been doing at a rapid pace in recent years, is to link up with an industry machine and start her own fashion or beauty brand to market directly to her followers. But Woods is taking a different approach, as befitting to her less-than-conventional career so far.
Conscious of how black culture is used to market fashion brands that are not owned by minorities, Woods is partnering with a group of friends and creatives to launch C1V1L, a direct-to-consumer jewellery line that is minority-owned and plans to invest 20 percent of its profits into other minority and female-owned businesses.
“We get treated as jesters,” Woods told BoF on Wednesday, the morning after she modelled in Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty runway show. “We are supposed to entertain everybody with our words and the way we talk and we are just supposed to sing and dance. I’m trying to be king, I’m not trying to be the jester.”
C1V1L is the brainchild of Blakely Thornton, a marketer who has worked at Ralph Lauren and Maxim and is formerly the managing director of Jerry Media, an advertising agency that grew out of the viral Instagram meme aggregating account FuckJerry. The agency is best known for creating the marketing for the fraudulent Fyre Festival, and then producing a documentary about the infamous event for Netflix.
“There is an issue of the culture being commoditized but we are not the owners of that,” said Thornton. “Having been behind the veil in advertising, we were seeing that the people actually making the money off of this culture are largely white, straight men. Even if you’re pushing it and it’s getting a positive media reception, it’s disheartening seeing that the actual financial capital is going back to the same place, back to the top of that pyramid.”
He decided to launch a brand that could reap the benefits of representing black culture and pass on those opportunities to others. In addition to Woods, his other partners are eyewear designers and sisters Coco and Breezy Dotson.
While some of the company’s owners are white, including Jerry Media Chief Executive Mick Purzycki and lawyer Julian Darwall, Thornton said C1V1L is majority-owned by minorities including himself, Woods and the Dotsons. (Darwall is Coco Dotson’s partner.)
The brand has so far raised money in friends and family rounds, but as it seeks outside investment, Thornton plans to only consider minority or female-owned funds and make sure the future board is at least half minorities.
“I need [investors] who are going to understand … the emotional and financial value of my culture,” he said.
Thornton chose jewellery because he wanted a high-luxury category with room to grow. C1V1L’s first collection of mesh cord cuffs, necklaces and signet rings are priced from $195 to $5000, with most pieces falling under $400. The entry price point was important, but so was the luxury price-point offering of the more elaborate pieces.
“You can be for the culture … and still sell your stuff with a comma in front of it,” he said.
The marketing plan is to use Woods’ Instagram and her circle of influential friends like Rihanna, 21 Savage and A$AP Ferg to spread the word about the brand.
“Slick is marketing,” said Thornton. “We have access to media channels people don’t have access to for free.” He’s banking that Woods’ influence will help the company become profitable sooner, so it can start investing at least $10,000 to $30,000 in other business by the end of next year.
“The jewellery is just a vessel for opportunity,” he said. “We are well connected and well protected,” added Woods.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 12 September 2019. A previous version stated that Thornton is currently an employee at Jerry Media. He no longer works there.